When it launches this month, the new offering will allow the more than 70,000 members of the $662 million credit union to deposit checks from home or the office.
"We're calling this Agile Home/Office, and there was great debate over whether to use the slash or the dash," said Jon Reneslacis, direction of solutions engineering at VSoft Corp.
"We recognized the solution to be the equivalent or supplement to merchant capture but hitting a different segment," said Reneslacis, whose company's Check 21 and other payment and remittance solutions are in use at about half the nation's corporate credit unions and 1,700 other financial institutions large and small around the globe.
"This is aimed at microbusinesses-micro in the sense that the number of checks they actually receive doesn't necessitate a large scanner or much investment in hardware at all-and at individual consumers, like members at AFCU," Reneslacis said.
It's the individual members who were the reason for being the initial user of the new solution, according to Larry Biernacki, president and CEO of the state's largest credit union.
"We can't out branch the banks, but we had to find ways to serve our larger SEGs, especially state employees in offices all over Arkansas," Biernacki said. "This product really ties very nicely with our credit and checking cards and all the other services we have that allows our members to do business with us from the convenience of their home or office."
And while going after the small business market has become almost a mantra in credit union land for the past few years, Biernacki makes no bones about his credit union's focus.
"We don't have business accounts at this time," he said.
"When you grow $300 million in the last three years and never make a commercial loan or open a commercial checking account, it's pretty important to not worry about what you don't have to worry about," Biernacki said.
"Not to sound self-righteous, it's just that we know what our members are asking for," the AFCU president said. "We know [commercial accounts] work for some credit unions, but our membership doesn't have that makeup."
That includes helping to handle those pesky pieces of paper. AFCU's electronic transactions in the past few months have caught up with paper transactions, but paper checks will not likely be a thing of the past anytime soon.
"Of course, I wish they'd all go away. They're expensive to handle and to process, even with all the innovations and cost savings of Check 21," Biernacki said.
The service, offered through the credit union's Web site at www.afcu.org, is being promoted through newsletter articles, e-mail blasts and in-branch displays.
It also comes with a twist. AFCU also plans to work with its SEGs to place a computer and a small, MICR-enabled single-pass scanner-not unlike those in place, for instance, at Walmart checkout lines-at work locations with larger numbers of employees, perhaps 200 or so, Biernacki said.
That, along with enabling members to deposit checks from home with simple flatbed scanners, will allow his credit union to better compete with banks for the business of its potential membership, scattered across the large, largely rural state.
As for the return on his investment in the check capture service, which is being offered at no charge, "it's a little challenging to say," Biernacki said. "But what if the typical branch today costs $2.5 million to $3 million? What's the cost of one of these micro-encoders? $450?"
"And let's dream a little. If you have a good call center, good electronic delivery channels, and now that even account opening has become an online process, really, how often do you need a teller?"